As far back as 1996, the New York Times was telling us that while late-coming residents “do not expect Red Hook to become gentrified overnight… the prospect that the nearby neighborhood could become a hot commercial area worries them.”
With Ikea, “The Real World,” and the Cheyenne Diner all coming to speed the neighborhood’s transformation, you’d think this was a settled issue. But as Gowanus Lounge points out, Red Hook is still a place “where 2/3 of the people live in public housing.”
Now a new Red Hook-based TV show on which the Times reports today (“Far From Hollywood, Red Hook’s Grit Sells”) suggests a way for local gentrifiers to seal the deal.
True, “Red Hook High” — “set in a Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood that is teetering on the edge of gentrification” — hasn’t got a buyer yet, though it hopes to obtain one at this week’s New York Television Festival. From the Times‘ description — “The teenagers developed the dialogue themselves over the course of a seven-week acting workshop held after school” — and its trailer, there’s a good chance it never will. “Red Hook High” certainly doesn’t portray the neighborhood in a glamorous light, focusing on teen pregnancy, drug dealing, and such like.
But we recall that when the East Village first grabbed the public imagination, it wasn’t because it looked like a good place to put an Ikea. It happened when proto-indie films like Desperately Seeking Susan and Smithereens portrayed it as an excitingly “edgy” place full of crime, dissolution, and high style. This intrigued young outlanders, and with their interest came money, chain stores, and high rents.
Red Hook has in some respects been doing it backwards, or at least piecemeal, with the commercial outlets arriving early and the absurdly high rents present but getting laughed at (“This place is a healthy spit away from Brooklyn’s biggest projects, on a dark side street that is a little too busy at night, if you know what I mean”).
It seems Red Hook gentrifiers missed an important marketing step: first sell the grit, then the glamor. “Red Hook High” is a step in the right direction. But the next entrepreneur who tries it may want to use real actors — or at least a Hope & Anchor karaoke habitue with a boyfriend who’s a DJ — and a professional script, and focus less on quotidian problems and more on angst, artistic struggle, and other tried-and-true attractors of young suburban thrill-seekers. “Real World” Red Hook just looks silly, but slap some grit on that sucker and you might just have something.